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Masters: Team Canada looking to turn science into gold

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Mark Masters
12/21/2012 9:47:33 AM
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HELSINKI, FIN. - Canada will have science on its side at this year's world junior hockey championship.  

The team's schedule has been carefully planned out in consultation with Dr. Charles Samuels at the Calgary-based Centre for Sleep and Human Performance. Samuels, who has also worked with the NHL's Calgary Flames and the Canadian Olympic Committee, is helping the players adjust quicker to the time change overseas. 

"We've got science behind our plan for the first time in a long time as opposed to a gut coach's feeling and that's still there, that's still part of it, but we got some science behind it," said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's senior director of hockey operations / national teams. "We believe it's going to give us a bit of an edge."

So, what is Canada doing differently thanks to Dr. Samuels?

"What non-hockey people can do is they look at your schedule and they say, 'When you want to play at night and be at your peak why wouldn't you try and gear towards that and practice later in the day and make sure you're taking advantage of the times of the day when you're most active?'" explains Salmond. "We switched our whole schedule around. Our practices are later. We practice at 4 pm and I think in hockey, traditionally, they're in the mornings. We're having our afternoon skates, dinner and then letting our guys go to sleep earlier."

And Canadian players have been filling out questionnaires regularly about how they feel.

"We monitor that through our doctor, Cole Beavis, and he takes that back to our coaching staff and depending on how they're feeling and reacting the coaches can adjust the schedule even to the point of how long we're going to practice that day. [On Tuesday] you saw 48 minutes, [on Monday] you saw an hour and a half. Again, that's science and coach Steve Spott has taken notice of where guys are mentally and physically and adjusting our schedule from there."

Canadian players have also been issued Litebooks. The Litebook is a specific wavelength and intensity of light that adjusts the brain's clock. It usually takes the body one day for every time zone travelled through to adjust. Finland is nine hours ahead of Calgary where the selection camp was held while Ufa, Russia, where the team is heading on Sunday, is 13 hours ahead. It's hoped the Litebooks will trim the adjustment period by a few days.

TSN recently spoke with Dr. Samuels about the Litebooks and the challenge Team Canada will face at this year's world junior championship. Here's a transcript of the interview:

Mark Masters: What do the Litebooks do?

Dr. Samuels: The focus is recovery and recovery takes on many issues and the sleep part is considered the foundation of the athlete's ability to recover so in the sleep state we want them all sleeping well. We don't want them to have sleep disorders. We want them to be sleeping in an appropriate circadian pattern for the athlete and that can be difficult, of course, when you're traveling through time zones, but also at home so the Litebooks are a fundamental part of managing the circadian factors that affect an athlete's ability to sleep and sleep in the right, what we call, sleep phase.

Masters: How often do they need to use the Litebooks? 

Dr. Samuels: It depends on what you're doing. When it comes to travel it's a very strategic, limited approach where we're trying to change their circadian rhythm from wherever they come, which was Calgary where the training camp was, to wherever they're going and so we have a very specific protocol we give the athletes, which is what we spent the last six months working on with Dr. Beavis sort of developing the strategy for the use of the Litebook, but also in combination, for some athletes, with melatonin and that's to manage their sleep routine. In this case, they may use it for the first two days upon arrival to speed up their adjustment, because adjustment usually, standard adjustment, takes one day per time zone so you'd need nine days, which they can't afford, right? So we try and reduce that to four days by using the light, getting them adjusted and making sure they're well rested and not over training at the site. We talked to the doctor, who relayed our advice to the coach, on trying not to use ice time in the morning when they arrive. We really want them to be focused on being active in the evening and late afternoon, because that's game time so we're treating them almost like shift workers.

Masters: What are the Litebooks made of?

Dr. Samuels: The Litebook is a specific wavelength and intensity of light that adjusts the brain's clock. Light is the most potent suppresser of melatonin release from the brain. And, so, we're trying to regulate melatonin secretion to mimic what occurs in the new time zone, because their brains would remain on Calgary time, of course, so we want to get them over to the time zone in Russia or Finland and adjusted. This trip is a particularly complicated one, because it's a short period of time and a fairly large amount of travel. 

TSN: I understand the players are filling out questionnaires on a daily basis to see how they're feeling and then maybe the coaches will alter the practice times and schedule based on that.

Dr. Samuels: Exactly. What we had hoped is that, along with giving them the intervention, we could get some sense of how the athletes are doing, because that's our research. We're monitoring all summer and winter Olympic athletes through an electronic database called, 'The Canadian Athlete Monitoring Program,' in an effort to understand many things, but one of them is sleep and so the athletes fill out a daily sleep log and quarterly they fill out what we have developed as the athletes sleep screening questionnaire so we can understand seasonally what differences there might be in their sleep and we match that to the questionnaires that you're talking about called the Hooper MacKinnon, which assesses their fatigue both cognitively  and physically so that's what we want to know, because, I guess, in the past, when the tournament has been in Europe they can watch the team sort of wind down as the tour goes on and they just get burnt out and tired so we're trying to prevent that cumulative travel fatigue that occurs.

TSN: Are you still in contact with the team now that they're overseas?

Dr. Samuels: We will communicate with Dr. Beavis. He's the point person so we don't overload anybody. He brings any questions to us. For instance, this week, I think on Monday he sent me off an email asking some questions, but my guess is, as they get into it, they're really implementing and doing what they need to do. They're in a routine and they seem to be buying into it and that's what we need. We need athletes to buy into it and that's what we did in Calgary when we introduced the idea, because [general manager] Jay Feaster was quite keen to modify the way things were done and focus making sure the athletes were well rested for their games and season. 

Team Canada (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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